Pete Carroll never had such reservations.
The Seattle Seahawks head coach saw first-hand what Bush could accomplish when the two were together at the University of Southern California.
“If you can imagine, all that I’d seen Reggie do, I could only think that he was going to be a great player,” Carroll said last week at the league meetings in Palm Beach. “I think the fact that they finally settled on him helped him and he got comfortable. You saw Reggie be a normal back. And the good fortune of being healthy made a difference. But he had a really solid football season. It was really good to see. It was fun to watch him.”
Carroll was the head coach at USC when Bush rushed for 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2005, which led to him being the second overall pick in the ’06 draft.
But after carrying the ball exactly 200 times in 13 games for the Trojans in 2005, Bush never had more than 157 carries in any of his five seasons in New Orleans.
That all changed when he came to Miami, and the opportunity to become a feature back was a big reason he agreed to restructure his contract to facilitate the trade.
“We never thought that Reggie couldn’t run the ball all the time,” said Carroll, whose USC backfield also included 2006 Tennessee Titans second-round pick LenDale White. “We always thought he could be an inside guy and an outside guy and a receiver. We had seen him do that. He kind of got pigeonholed a little bit, not in a bad way but utilized in a way to really flash and do the things on the perimeter. But Reggie always had the instincts to run the ball inside. I think he tried for a while, you just couldn’t see it. Even probably banged himself up some trying to prove that he was a tough guy, that he could do some stuff. I’ve seen Reggie have that chip on his shoulder in years past.”
Bush’s highest rushing total with the Saints was the 581 yards he recorded in 2007. He wasn’t that far from doubling that total last season when he finished with 1,086 yards with a hefty 5.0 average.
Perhaps what was most impressive in Bush’s season was his strong finish — especially for a running back who was considered too small by some to handle a feature role.
Bush produced one 100-yard game in the first 11 games before he caught fire. His tremendous run — pardon the pun — began with 100 yards even against Oakland, followed by 103 against Philadelphia, his memorable 203-yard effort at Buffalo and finally a 113-yard outing at New England on Christmas Eve.
He sat out the season finale against the Jets because of a minor injury, otherwise his final total would have been even more impressive.
The only surprise for Carroll, really, was that it took Bush this long to have a breakout season.
“Yeah, I am surprised at that because he is so talented,” Carroll said. “And he’s so explosive. And the factor that he brings is so unique. Everybody saw him kind of like (Darren) Sproles. You see what Sproles did at New Orleans, he had a huge season. And you saw San Diego miss him, that factor that he brings. Everybody saw Reggie as the same kind of flashy guy, returner, edge guy. There wasn’t much that happened that proved he should be taken out of that role.
“He wasn’t as effective as he could be early on, so I don’t think any coaches made mistakes. I think it just took him time to mature and once he did, he has extraordinary talent and that’s obviously come forward.”
Carroll will have to deal with that extraordinary talent next season, with the Dolphins and Seahawks scheduled to face each other in Miami.
Obviously, Carroll has a good idea of how to try to contain Bush — not that it’s going to be easy.
“We’re going to work really hard on tackling,” Carroll said. “You have to keep your head up, you have to do a good job of giving yourself a chance. You try to knock him out, you’re going to miss him. You have to be really poised in the way you tackle him and also any of the guys that are like him, you have to be very disciplined on the edge of your defense because he’ll take the ball back against you and he’s so fast he can outrun you.
“Yeah, there’s some issues that he brings that are unique. We’ll respect that and hopefully we’ll do a good job on him.”
Carroll already has faced Bush in the NFL, the meeting coming in the 2010 playoffs when Seattle played host to New Orleans. Bush ended up with only five rushing attempts for 12 yards that day along with five receptions as the Seahawks pulled off a 41-36 upset.
But things were different for Bush back then. What Pete Carroll will see from Bush in 2012 is likely to be a lot more like what he saw at USC.
It might bring back some nice memories for Carroll, but it also might make for a tough day.